American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, 2013 winner of Cardiff Singer of the Year, sang at Koerner Hall last night with veteran Bradley Moore at the piano. Her first set; Joaquin Turina’s Homenaje a Lope de Vega gave us a pretty good idea of the basic value proposition. She has a fantastic instrument. There is power to burn, a pleasing dark tone, accuracy and musicianship. She never sounded remotely strained even while pushing out a very impressive sound. The rest of her first half programme; Chausson’s Three Melodies and four of Schubert’s Goethe settings showed that there was more than just a big accurate voice. Basically, it’s all there. She can vary colours and scale vibrato up and down. There’s some agility. She can float quiet high notes and she can tell a story. Her diction was clear in all three languages. I would say at this point the only question mark I had was around her ability to engage the audience. If I were to judge by the very highest standards, and I’m think Bryn Terfel or Karita Mattila, there was something just the merest shade cold and technical. The second half would see whether she could, as it were , lighten up a bit.
There were signs after the interval that she could reach out to the audience. Dvořák’s Cigánske melódie were given a very engaging treatment and then it was on to three rather sophisticated arrangements of spirituals (by Harry Thacker Burleigh and James Ivey). This was “home ground” for a young lady from the Georgia hill country and they were truly engaging. It was a similar experience to hearing Bryn sing something like Dafydd y Garreg Wen or Ar Ian y Môr; not quite as affecting only because I’m not from Georgia. So, a terrific voice and signs of true mastery of it in the service of art emerging. One to watch for sure.
Photo credit: James M. Ireland